Rugby League: Saints back in the driving seat

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The Independent Online
St Helens 58 Halifax 20

St Helens' destiny, as they are probably already sick of being told, is back in their own hands. Last night they accepted the invitation extended by Wigan's defeat at Bradford on Friday to go back to the top of the Stones Super League.

The equation is simple: if they continue to win they will take the title, and if they follow the lead set by outstanding forwards like Keiron Cunningham and Chris Joynt in this ultimately one-sided match, they will continue to win.

Saints took longer than they should have to get themselves on top in the first half. Halifax, despite their excellent recent away form, played poorly in the early stages and were fortunate to be only 10 points behind in the first few minutes.

Alert handling from Karle Hammond and Paul Newlove had produced a try for Danny Arnold after only two minutes, and when Cunningham lunged over from acting half-back it seemed that Saints were taking complete control. But John Schuster landed a penalty for Halifax and then John Bentley went in at the corner, Schuster's conversion putting his side only two points in arrears.

Cunningham, always a problem for a side not on its defensive mettle, got his second when he backed up Apollo Perelini near the line and then Joynt, back in the side and at his best after an ankle injury, charged through for a brilliant solo try to give St Helens the sort of lead that their dominance demanded.

The vulnerability of Halifax's defence near their line was shown up again early in the second half when Newlove forced his way over direct from a play-the-ball. Bobbie Goulding, another returning from injury, then scootered through for a try as Saints began to look like Super League leaders.

Only some poor ball control prevented them from quickly adding to their lead. Martin Moana, who had already been sin-binned along with Saints' Hammond for fighting, was then sent off for a high tackle on Arnold to ruin Halifax's already slim chances of making the scoreline respectable. Saints immediately exploited their advantage, Goulding sending in Allan Hunte and adding his fifth goal for good measure.

Halifax pulled one back after Newlove had gone for an interception and the defensive line had paid the price, Schuster going through the gap to score. They got another through Graeme Hallas but Saints responded with Hunte's second, laid on by Cunningham.

Cunningham himself struck next, completing a hat-trick that emphasises his status as the epitome of the modern hooker with Joey Hayes and Hammond also going over before the end.

St Helens: Prescott; Arnold, Hunte, Newlove, Hayes; Hammond, Goulding; Perelini, Cunningham, Fogerty, Joynt, McVey, Morley. Substitutes: Haigh, Matautia, Northey, Pickavance.

Halifax: Amone; Bentley, Schuster, Tuilagi, Rika; Chester, Dean; Ketteridge, Rowley, Perrett, Gillespie, Jackson, Moana. Substitutes: Yumaga, Hallas, Harrison, Baldwin.

Referee: S Presley (Castleford).